WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned the Interior Department’s Inspector General Earl E. Devaney at the first House hearing on the royalties’ fiasco at the Interior Department.  Interior I.G. shed significant light on the Interior Department’s poor oversight and management over oil and gas activities on public land, and Rep. Markey asked Devaney to highlight how Department missteps were discovered and dealt with over the past several months.

The Department of Interior Inspector General has issued a number of reports, which have underscored how badly the Bush Administration’s Minerals Management Service has overseen oil and gas activities on public land.

Rep. Markey said, “When potentially tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, the American people need a watchdog not a lapdog. By completely neglecting its oversight responsibilities for this critical agency, the Republican Congress aided and abetted one of the greatest heists in history. The collection of royalties owed to taxpayers has been an embarrassment and it is time to provide real oversight and put an end to big oil’s free ride.”

Congressman Markey’s prepared statement and questions follow below:

Mr. Devaney—your testimony today sheds news and substantial light on one particular area of Interior’s mismanagement: the Interior Department has an upside down system that punishes junior employees while rewarding or giving a pass to senior officials who have been responsible for horrendous errors in judgment, potentially criminal activities, and the loss of billions in taxpayer revenues. The bottom line is that this Administration’s cozy cooperation with ‘Big Oil’ has cost us billions. Fortunately there is a new Congressional cop on the beat to police an Interior Department in disarray.

Q.) Mr. Devaney, in your testimony you state that you have discovered that “the failure of [Interior] Department officials to remain at arms length from prohibited sources is pervasive.” Without compromising any ongoing criminal investigations, could you please give the committee more specifics – for example,  of these pervasive activities, describe one that you would consider  to be the WORST offense or biggest lapse in judgment committed in the MMS division.

Q.) Mr. Devaney, was this sort of behavior isolated to the Minerals Management Service, or did you find similar practices or violations in other Interior Department agencies? And, if so, in which agencies?

Q.) Mr. Devaney, how were these violations at MMS initially uncovered?

Q.) Mr. Devaney, what sort of disclosure process did MMS officials and other Interior Department employees follow during the periods when these violations were occurring?

Q.) Mr. Devaney, were any of the individuals who committed these violations given above average performance ratings, bonuses, or other preferential or meritorious treatment during the same periods as the violations occurred and, if so, how many?

Can you check on those numbers and provide them to me?

Q.) Mr. Devaney, were any of the individuals who committed these violations given bonus pay during the same periods as the violations occurred and, if so, how many?

Can you check on those numbers and provide them to me?

Q.) Mr. Devaney, Minerals Management Service Director Johnnie Burton has repeatedly stated that she does not want the additional leverage contained in H.R. 6, which the House recently passed overwhelmingly, to bring oil companies back to the negotiating table to correct the 1998 and 1999 leases. Do you agree with her that allowing companies to voluntarily renegotiate will bring every company back to the table when the vast majority of companies have indicated no willingness to do so?

You state in your testimony that disciplinary action was taken against fewer than half of the employees engaging in this kind of behavior. That statement is shocking and probably is reason enough for this committee to question Interior officials directly at some point soon.

In addition, you note that the majority of enforcement actions for misconduct were taken against less senior employees, GS-14s and below and supervisors received less severe punishment for the same misconduct.

This double standard reinforces the upside down system of punishments and rewards that is pervasive at the Department of Interior.

The American people deserve a proper return on these public resources.   We must put an end to big oil fleecing taxpayers out of the royalties they are rightfully owed.

I thank the Chairman for convening this important hearing and I thank Inspector General Devaney for your good work on behalf of the American people.  Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s important and long-overdue Department of Interior oversight hearing. During the previous Congress, the Republican chairman of this Committee ignored repeated requests from me and other Democratic Members to examine the massive failures within the Minerals Management Service.

February 16, 2007

CONTACT: Israel Klein